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02-06-04: Women With Guns and a Dark Prince of Nothing

"Anything You Say" to Women With Guns

Ten stories five women with guns.
Laurie Lynn Drummond was a young uniformed cop in Baton Rouge for long enough to inform her writing with the kind of details that makes stories about cops come to life. But she also brings something entirely different to her fiction, the ten stories collected in 'Anything You Say Can And Will Be Used Against You'. She brings a kind of fatalism, a set of deep-seated emotions that speak more clearly than the gritty details.

'Anything You Say…' collects stories told from the point of view of five different women who wear a police uniform. Set in her native Baton Rouge, the stories offer not simple slices of life and death, but rather, emotional portraits, subjective miniatures of the interior life of women who might have to kill someone as part of earning a day's pay.

I read the first story here, 'Absolutes' in a single sitting. Yes, Drummond gets all the details down, and you’d expect that. But the emotional details are what work best, what strike most true. 'Absolutes' is about a woman who shoots a suspect, a young black man who has robbed a convenience store. Now, we've seen this story played out on practically a daily basis, both in the newspaper and in movies and television. What Drummond does is scrub away at the character's nerves until the raw, unprotected human underneath emerges. And what emerges is a surprisingly numinous view of what happens to us when we die, what happens to us when we kill, when we stand over the body of the person whose life we've just ended. It was a careful, closely written story, cleverly constructed.

Living in the netherworld between true crime --because this is clearly based on her personal experiences -- and crime fiction, because this is also clearly fiction -- 'Anything You Say…' is one of those books that seeks a higher truth, the truth in fiction, the truth in the hearts of the characters. An interesting spiky texture and a delivery dry, but not too dry, make this book definitely worthy of examination. There's a segment of readers who enjoy this subject and who should probably just buy the book without any fussing about. But the first story is short enough and strong enough that you could probably sit down in your local independent bookstore and read it to get an idea as to whether or not this is your kind of book. I can't imagine that anyone who thinks they might be interested wouldn't turn round and buy the book on the spot.

A Dark Prince of Nothing

Look into my eyes.
From the other side of the Atlantic, from the other side of the world of fiction itself comes a fantasy that is most intriguing. 'The Darkness That Comes Before' is Book One of 'The Prince of Nothing' a new epic (read long, multi-volume) series by new author R. Scott Bakker. It arrives complete with an effusive blurb from Steven Erikson, whose own fantasies are finally scheduled to appear in the US from Tor later this year; this when he's on book five or so of a similarly detailed epic.

Like any other piece of writing, a fantasy demands great prose, good characters, an intriguing plot, all the standards of good writing. But great fantasy must come with something else -- a sense of history. In order for a fantasy to subsume the world you live in as you read it, you need to feel that the background of the world you’re reading about is as complex as the world you live in. If a fantasy can provide that feeling, then reading the book becomes practically a form of travel, a way to visit a place that has never existed. Tolkien and Peake, the Two Towers of the Fantasy Genre, both understood this, and dealt with it in different fashions. Tolkien provided a detailed, event-oriented history; this happened then, and thus it was followed by that,setting these folks at one another's throats in search of this which would give them (pointing left) power and take power away from them (pointing right). It's reflected in 'The Simarillion', a sort of "notes behind the history" of Tolkien's epic 'The Lord of the Rings'. Most of the characters in Tolkien's novels know more about history than our current high-school graduates are taking away with them.

Peake deals with this with an entirely different prose device. He actually erases the history, not just for the reader but for the characters as well, leaving them with the detritus of history, but not the background. Peake's characters live in the remains of a history that they do not know, but the evidence of that history makes up in large part their lives.

Bakker takes a hybrid of the two paths. He's clearly created a history for his world; over 2,000 years ago, The No-God was vanquished. But Mankind has gotten over it and moved on, and most people are too concerned by their own petty struggles to care. Drusas Achamian is a sorcerer who is having 2,000 year-old dreams, constantly looking for No-God to pop up again. In the world around him, factions -- enough so that the author includes a helpful list of who is at whose throat and for what reason in the back of the book -- are jockeying for power and prestige. Anasurimbor Kellhus is the product of a breeding program that gives him the power to cloud men's and women's minds. He's clearly on the rise, as is an ancient evil.

It's really impossible to even summarize what this book appears to be about. What it appears to be is complicated, detailed, well-imagined and rather enjoyable. It does not give off a vibe of pre-processed fantasy cheese, of derivative product foisted on the increasingly-fantasy hungry public. It does appear to be just the thing to tuck up with for a weekend, making this old world go far, far away. The prose has a detailed quality, the kind of quiet assurance that the author has something to say and needs not start out shouting to say it. With a world thirsty for more fantasy on this level and this scale, it seems that Bakker really has the potential to deliver. Given that it's available as a trade paperback thick enough to stun a large dog, it's also nicely under-priced, so that your experiment in fantasy isn't going to cost you two arms and two legs, beyond that is, the shipping from the UK. Yep, that's right, another UK only fantasy. Buy it now, or wait a few years until you're way behind and then try to find copies.

02-05-04: Hit the Road With Kerouac and Cthulhu, Jim Burns' Influential SF Art

Taking Cthulhu On The Road

Coming soon, plush Jack Chick.
Good ol' Cthulhu has been through just about every costume change you could put an enormous, chthonic, tentacled monstrosity from the depths of time through. Let's see. You've got your plush Cthulhu -- you do have your plush Cthulhu, don't you?

And you've read 'Tales of the Plush Cthulhu', haven't you?

And you you know you can always Ask Plush Cthulhu your innermost questions?

OK, just checking.

And you know that noted evangelist Jack Chick has heard the word of Cthulhu, right?

And you know that Cthulhu has taken on those nasty Nigerian Scammers, right?

Again, just checking.

And you know that Cthulhu and his cute friends are there to have fun with you. You can always count on "Hello Cthulhu" to come through!

And yes, while we're all glad to live in a free society, and we're happy to see the two-party system at work, we always know that there's a third choice available, right? So, of course, why vote for the lesser evil?

And think of all the hardships that Lil' Cthulhu had to put up with while growing up. No wonder he's Presidential material!

Coming soon, plush Jack Kerouac.
But we all know that there's more to Cthulhu than this. And so does noted author Nick Mamatas, whose new novel 'Move Under Ground' opens as the island of R'lyeh rises off the coast of Big Sur. The only witness to this event is Jack Kerouac, who gets back on the road with Neal Cassady and William S. Burroughs for a showdown with the Lovecraftian cult that threatens to consume the planet. Urp!
As a reviewer, I get a fair amount of promo copy, but the author's comments on this book are some of the most entertaining I've ever read, and I have to pass them on to you verbatim.

"I was struck buy the similarities between the two authors," Long Island author Mamatas says of Kerouac and Lovecraft. "Both had a circle of fellow writers they worked with. Both had oddly co-dependent relationships with older female relatives. Both were compulsive correspondents. Both had a very bizarre relationship with the sentence. In fact, I think of Lovecraft as a proto-Beat."

How can you resist the siren song of Kerouac meets Lovecraft? You can't, I tell you, and what's more, you shouldn't. This is a compact fantasy adventure that looks like it might have a wide swath of appeal. The usual Night Shade Books printing, both deluxe and trade, ensures it will be a nice *book*. Who would have guessed that our Cthulhu, that monstrosity we've all loved since we were 12 year old kids haunting the liquor store for EC comics and books with grinning skulls would still be going strong thirty years later. But then, of course Cthulhu would age well:

That is not dead
which can eternal lie
and with strange aeons
even death may die.

Burns for Hamilton
The tiny-size version of Burns' spectacular cover for Hamilton's latest novel.

Jim Burns and Peter F. Hamilton have been paired for years now, since the first, fantastic cover for 'The Reality Dysfunction'. One of the reasons to look forward to Hamilton's work is to see how Burns will bring it to life. Hamilton is out with a new and what appears to be a rocking space opera I wrote about last week. In the article, I expressed my interest in getting a JPG of the cover and I've got to thank the wonderful people at MacMillan for sending me this glorious, wonderful, huge detailed copy of Burns artwork.

I've created a number of versions for readers to look at, depending on the size of their displays; there's small (above), medium and large. Enjoy!

And while you're enjoying, remember that this is much more than the cover of a book. This is an artwork by the man who helped Ridley Scott with his adaptation of a book we all enjoyed by Philip K. Dick, 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' The movie of course, was re-titled to 'Blade Runner'. Should Mr. Scott wish to return to SF, Hamilton's novella 'A Second Chance At Eden' -- illustrated by Burns for MacMillan as well -- would make an ideal choice.

Don't forget to look at Hamilton's website as well. It's time to get excited about Hamilton and Burns! Thanks to Troy for this pointer.

02-04-04: The Future of Jon Courtenay Grimwood and China Mieville; Les Edwards Website

China Mieville's 'The Iron Council'

China smiles at Worldcon 2003.
No reader needs to be told that these two UK authors are some of the hottest writers out there who happen to be writing something that remotely resembles genre fiction. Over the weekend, while I watched deadlines flying by in the wind (and thus was unable to make time or updates for this anti-profit operation) I heard from both writers, their publishers -- past, present and future -- and their maiden aunts. Well, maybe that was Lovecraft's maiden aunt. These séances get so confusing. And damn that ectoplasm doesn't come out of the tablecloth even if you use Oxy-Clean.

Back in this world, China wrote to tell me that we may be able to get a glance at part of 'The Iron Council' his new Bas-Lag novel online some time in the not-too-distant future. For those of us lucky enough to hear him read at Worldcon -- or elsewhere -- that's definitely something to celebrate. The excerpt we heard at Worldcon was a wonderful bit of imaginative socialist agit-prop. Mieville did the speculative fiction equivalent of an "unplugged" performance and read a passage that included no particularly science-fictional or fantastic elements, only reality itself delightfully re-arranged by his unique mix-master mind. He got and deserved a standing ovation. We're likely to see the net equivalent if someone manages to obtain permission to run an excerpt of his next novel. Not surprisingly, he's featured in one of my upcoming columns that deals with the sea-change we're seeing in written fantasy. Come August of 2004, we're going to see the next change that China brings to the face of fiction -- yes fiction! -- damnit.

Les Edwards Website

"Edward Millar's" work.
For those, like myself, who are fans of the artist whose work graces the UK versions of China's novels, reader Mathew Riley pointed me to his website, where you can actually buy the originals from this talented artist. I'm unclear on the why, but though his name is Les Edwards (and his wesbite is, he publishes his "more romantic" work for Mieville and many others under the "brush name" Edward Miller/Millar. If this website ever leaves, even briefly, the anti-profit column, I'd be very tempted to spring for one of these lovely paintings.

Edwards/Miller has a wonderful style that's an excellent antidote to the sanitized, digitized, Photoshop-realistic work of too many of today's speculative fiction book covers. All those bronzed men and busty women are a turn-off, not a turn-on, to any reader who actually cares about what's between the covers. You can also find an interview with Edwards at The Alien Online, and it's well worth reading. He observes, "…you've got a generation of designers now, who've never had to commission an illustration, and don't really know how to go about it."

Past, Present & Future With Jon Courtenay Grimwood

The French cover for neoAddix.
After publishing my article on the release of Grimwood's back-catalogue title 'Lucifer's Dragon', I heard from the author, and three -- count 'em --three publishers of his work. Simon and Schuster regretted to inform me that he's no longer with them, but then, they're lucky enough to have one other title from his back catalogue -- 'neoAddix' -- and the entire, monumental first hardcover and softcover editions of the Arabesk series, including 'Pashazade', 'Effendi' and 'Felaheen'.

Grimwood's new UK publisher is Victor Gollancz, and they wrote to tell me his newest title is 'Stamping Butterflies', which is due out in November of this year as a Gollancz hardcover. Mr Grimwood himself wrote me to let me know that the novel "…takes place in Marrakech in the 1970s, in the Mediterranean now and somewhere else, half way across the galaxy, in the far future..." As if we weren't already champing at the bit. I'm just hoping that he'll do another flash advertisement for this novel. His first, for 'Pashazade' and 'Effendi' was, to my mind as compelling as anything you’d see for a movie in a theater.

And finally, my rant about American publishers and Mr. Grimwood is rendered happily obsolete by the news I got just this morning from Bantam Spectra. I'm told that they are intent on bringing this wonderful set of books to American readers on an accelerated schedule starting in the Spring of 2005. Spectra has a whole host of other fabulous releases in the offing, which I'll cover, as Rumpole would say, "in the fullness of time".